The past few weeks have seen intense clashes between Kurdish forces and extremist fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), battling along Syria’s northern border.
With manpower stretched among Kurdish communities, more women are picking up arms. They’re joining the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), an all-female fighting unit established by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in 2012. This points to a resurgence of Kurdish nationalism in Syria.
The PYD is a Syrian-Kurdish militant group affiliated with Turkey’s PKK, long considered a terrorist group by Turkish authorities. In February the PYD established an autonomous administration in three northern ‘cantons,’ a move which effectively established it as the dominant Kurdish party (over the civilian-led Kurdistan National Council). The PYD has ambiguous working relationships with both rebel groups and the Syrian government; the latter maintains a limited presence in the Kurdish areas.
Here, Ronîda, a youth member of the YPJ, discusses her decision to join its ranks. “My family is a patriotic family,” she says. “Four of my brothers are also fighters.” She references Rojava, the Kurdish name for Syria’s northeastern region. Use of the term is on the rise, as Kurds reassert their identity and autonomy over Syria’s majority Kurdish terrains.
I joined YPJ on January 10, 2013 and have worked and fought with them until now. Before that, I studied up to ninth grade and after leaving school, I became involved in the civil struggle, and this became my education. Now I belong to the Shehid Mezlum division.
We are always ready for the battlefields in case there are attacks on our areas by gangs and extremist groups. We [resist their advances] in order not to let them reach our towns and target our civilian populations with their extremism. Meanwhile, within our towns we are also responsible for security issues, especially when there are popular occasions such as the Newroz [Kurdish New Year] festival, national events, funerals for martyrs etc. And we control many checkpoints on the town borders.
I was engaged in the battle of Serê Kaniyê (Ras al-Ayn) and when the regime targeted our comrades in Qamishli, I was with my division. We attacked the regime’s security forces and took revenge on behalf of our comrades.
Now we are in a time of revolution and war is rampaging through our regions. Therefore, I will continue to fight until we completely liberate our lands from the attacks that target our existence. I believe that YPJ can protect and activate the Kurdish nation of Rojava side by side with YPG [the Kurdish men’s brigades]. As such, I will continue with YPJ in the future and I will sacrifice myself for my people.
The YPG and the YPJ stand together in a united struggle with a shared philosophy: to protect and liberate our regions. Practically we inform and educate each other and have our military training together. This is how I was brought to the battlefields, shoulder to shoulder with them and likewise concerning security patrols within the towns. When there is a need, we control the checkpoints together.
That dictates day-to-day life. I join the division at 8am. We have political lessons until 10am, and after that we take a break for breakfast with several glasses of tea. Then we have military training until 1pm. Afterwards, it is time for lunch before we return to military exercises until 3pm. Finally, we sit together and talk about our views, and this is how our days end. During days off, I stay with my family or visit friends.
[Fighting with] the YPJ has strengthened my patriotism. Before joining, I had love for my Kurdish homeland, but now I see that love in a different way since I am ready to become a fighter for my country, my nation and our land. Now, I more strongly connect with these things.
I am learning the real way of the YPJ, the real way that the entire Kurdish nation is struggling for. The resistance that I practice now is the foundation of our rights that have long been suspended. I now see myself in YPJ as a human with the potential to build a country for all people. I hope for this. In addition, I have developed close connections with my friends here since joining the YPJ. We live as a family.